Senior project finds connections in mad cow disease to fish food

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Could fish be the cause of the next big disease? This is the question biology major Dylan Cramer, set out to determine for his senior capstone project this year. Cramer specifically focused on prions, or infectious agents composed of proteins that have been what scientists call “misfolded.” These prions have been known to cause diseases that affect the brain tissue and often cause death.

In fact, mad cow disease is a type of mammalian prion. This disease first cropped up in Britain in the 1980’s causing the infection of thousands of cattle and more than 100 human deaths.

It was later discovered that farmers raising beef were feeding their cattle bone and meat meal, which contained the prion that causes mad cow disease and that humans could contract through eating contaminated meat. The outbreak was brought under control but the fear of diseases like mad cow disease still exists, like the scare in the early 2000’s in the United States.

After working in a fish factory that made cat food for the past two summers, Cramer was curious as to whether the infectious prions found in fish could be transmitted to mammals.

Since the factory grinds every part of the fish to create cat food, this became a legitimate concern. If these fish prions are able to infect mammals, scientists could face a new disease in the future.

With the development of fish farms, which sometime use fish meal for food, fish could go the way of beef and become a source of fear around the world.

Are we going to see a mad fish disease epidemic in the future, or is it still safe to order the salmon? Find out at Cramer’s senior presentation on April 24.


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